The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Nene makes a difference but Wizards lose again

(Associated Press)

Nene not only survived playing the second end of his third back-to-back set since returning from plantar fasciitis, he scored a season-high 20 points in the Wizards’ 90-83 loss to Orlando.

Afterward, while soaking his feet in a bucket of ice, with a towel around his shoulder, Nene was in no mood to celebrate. He was simply trying to understand why his team continues to lose and he continues to feel pain in his sore left foot.

“I have no strength. No energy. I’m weak right now. Sick,” Nene said. “And I just do my best right there, try to do what I can control, but it’s been hard.”

In the month that Nene has been back as a reserve, the Brazilian big man has helped make the Wizards appear more competent and competitive.

They are just 3-8 in the games that he has played, but that includes three overtime losses — two that he wasn’t able to finish because of his ongoing minutes limitation. He has sat two games, against two of the NBA’s best teams in San Antonio and Miami, and the Wizards have lost both games by a combined 56 points.

Nene’s influence was felt once again on Wednesday at Amway Center, when his presence often meant that a run was coming. In one of those bizarre statistical twists that explained his value to the Wizards and the predicament that his continued rehab presents, Nene had the fourth-best plus-minus — plus-nine — of any player on either team.

Nene repeatedly made the most of his limited bursts on the floor. He scored six points in less than six minutes in the first quarter; four points in less than five minutes in the second quarter; two points in less than three minutes in the third, and eight points while playing the entire fourth quarter. It’s probably not a coincidence that the Wizards’ worst period — a 13-point third — came when he saw the least action.

“He’s been efficient. I don’t know how much more efficient. In 24 minutes, 20 points?” Coach Randy Wittman said, reading the stat sheet. “He makes us good. Hopefully, we can keep bumping those minutes up as we move forward here and we keep him healthy we can get him with the group that he needs to be with right from the start.”

Wittman is hopeful that the Wizards can begin increasing Nene’s minutes after the team survives the next back-to-back, home-and-home set against Detroit, which begins on Friday.

Nene is more concerned about seeing his teammates start playing better and together to avoid suffering the same fate in close games. The Wizards are now 3-13 in games decided by seven points or less.

“It’s been hard, but nobody want to make part of the process. Everybody want to be in the end of the process,” Nene said. “Right now, it’s hard to listen to us, but when we start win, everybody playing good, everybody want to come. It’s good to us to remember this moment, when we start playing our game. Play together. That’s where we succeed. Right now, we don’t think, we don’t play together enough. Like a couple of quarters we play good and the last quarter, I don’t know what’s going on, like we losing focus.”

Nene then suggested that the Wizards often lose sight of the importance of playing as a team.

“This game is no, me,” he said. “I hope we learn.”

Nene was asked if he thought the light would eventually go off for his teammates and he replied, “I don’t know. I just need to keep praying, give my best and hope other players give their best, too. And in that moment, we’re going to win games.”

The Wizards have a had a run of poor luck since Nene came back, with the team losing starters Trevor Ariza and A.J. Price in the past three weeks. Bradley Beal was forced to sit against the Magic after sustaining a sore lower back after a hard fall in the previous game against Atlanta.

Nene said the Wizards can’t focus on what they don’t have; they have to stay committed to each other on the floor and put in the extra work after games to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

“I always catch video of the game. It’s hard to watch video after the game,” he said, laughing to himself, “but when you want to get better, you sacrifice your time, sacrifice that moment you’re supposed to rest. That attitude, it mean a lot. That’s a champion. A champion do hard things for the team. If you want to win, you need give to receive.

“God will bless you, when you play hard, when you play together, when you give your max for the team,” the openly religious Nene said. “He will bless you. Right now, we just have to have the courage to fight.”